Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Allergist's Wife Is A Laugh A Minute
Also see Richard's review of Mountain Days: the John Muir Musical
The Tale of the Allergist's Wife with most of the original New York cast came into the Curran Theatre on Wednesday night as part of the Best of Broadway season. The comedy plays here through September 8. The opening night audience was thoroughly entertained by the antics of this splendid cast who are all wise in the ways of comic timing. Charles Busch's intelligently funny and satirically relevant comedy follows an Upper West Side Jewish pseudo-intellectual housewife and her accomplished husband whose lives are turned around by the arrival of a free living, free loving childhood friend.
Allergist's Wife played to sell out crowds for several years on Broadway. The New York Post said it was "the most dazzling witty two acts in town." I saw the brilliant comedy at the Barrymore Theatre in New York and I laughed my tuchis off. Some producers felt that this was strictly a New York play and it would not play well in the hinterlands. However, they had nothing to fear since Allergist's Wife is a comedy for everyone. The comic drama is part Woody Allen and part Harold Pinter, and the dialogue is irresistibly smart, rivaling anything that Neil Simon has done in the past. The major difference between the New York production and the current touring presentation is the role of the allergist's wife. Linda Lavin played the "epically depressed" housewife on Broadway while Valerie Harper is playing the role in the touring production. Ms. Harper obtains a far broader characterization of Marjorie Taub, the allergist's wife. Even in her opening scene, Ms. Harper looks distraught and disheveled. She plays the scene at her wit's end and her depression is as terrible as her mother's constipation, which is a running gag through the whole play.
Tony Roberts, as usual, delivers a beautiful, understated performance. He is a straight man to both the wife and mother-in-law, played by the wonderful Shirl Bernheim. Roberts has added a quality to the character by tightening his neck muscles to give him a slightly stodgy air. His timing is right on the mark and he has one of the best theatrical voices in the business (which he uses to its best advantage in this production). Michelle Lee, as the mystery woman and the wife's childhood friend, gives a well honed performance that is bright and strikingly loaded with cloaked superficiality. According to her character, she had befriended every famous person in the universe, even having given Steven Spielberg the idea for E.T.. It is a fun performance.
Shirl Bernheim as the ancient, crusty mother who is always at loggerheads with the daughter, is hilarious. She is everyone's nightmare of a cantankerous mother and to make matters worse, she lives right down the hall from her daughter. Rounding out this splendid cast is Anil Kumar who plays Mohammed the door man. He has a great presence on stage and an excellent cultured voice for the part. All of the characters speak with a touch of pretentiousness and this adds to the comedy. The playwright is presenting a satire on the Jewish intellectual upper class and he had made this a go for the joke type play. Mr. Busch has done everything to not make this like sitcom and he has succeeded in his quest.
Santo Loquasto's set design is excellent - it is basically the same set that I saw at the Barrymore. It is fussy and overly primped. The sound design has what could be Danny Elfmann's heavy handed music between each scene. Director Lynne Meadow gives the touring production a fairly static feeling with centered blocking that looks like a TV sitcom.
If you're looking for just a good entertaining play with no hidden moral tales, this is your cup of tea. It fun, it's zany and just full of life. Allergist Wife runs through September 8th at the Curran Theatre. Single tickets range from $30 - $68 and they can be purchased at the Orpheum Theatre Box Office (1192 Market St at 8th), through Ticketmaster at 415-512-7770; at all Ticketmaster ticket centers; and through ticketmaster.com. For groups of 20 or more call group sales at 415-551-2020. For more information, visit bestofbroadway.com.